The Huffington Post Rips Down an Article Sharply Criticizing Spotify — Here’s the Original

Did Spotify Gag HuffPo?

The Huffington Post abruptly yanked an article critical of Spotify, possibly under pressure from the company.  Here’s what was removed — in its entirety.

But first, a little background.

The op-ed was written by artist advocate Blake Morgan, and included heated conversations between Morgan and Spotify executives.  Those conversations and other details in the piece were highly critical of Spotify’s treatment towards artists.  According to David Lowery (also an artist advocate), the piece was removed just as it was gaining some serious traction.

Lowery also questioned the timing of the removal  while producing the email between HuffPo and Morgan.  Spotify is now preparing to go public, and aggressively battling a $1.6 billion lawsuit alleging non-payment of royalties to artists and songwriters.

After tearing down the piece, the Huffington Post emailed Morgan the following:
From: Bryan Maygers <>

Subject: Spotify’s Fatal Flaw Exposed
Date: January 8, 2018 at 11:43:41 AM EST
To: Blake Morgan <>

Hi Blake,

I’m writing to let you know that we’ve unpublished your recent post.  We’re not making any judgment about the accuracy of the claims made in the piece, but the contributors platform is intended as a place for commentary based on the established factual record, not original reporting.  If anyone were to dispute your account of the meeting in question, we wouldn’t be able to verify or stand behind the quotes.

If you want to reframe the piece with the same basic argument — that Spotify sees their service and not the music as the product — without relying on retelling the conversation after the meeting, we’d be happy to reconsider.

Thanks,
Bryan

This morning, our in-box was hit with a few saved versions of the piece.  Here it is:


Spotify’s Fatal Flaw Exposed: How My Closed-Door Meeting with Execs Ended in a Shouting Match

I love streaming.

I love making playlists, I love being able to download streamed music so I can listen when I’m offline, and I love being able to bring that music with me. In short, I think it’s a great distribution method.

What I don’t love is how little musicians get paid for all that streaming.  It’s not fair –– not even close.  What’s more, middle-class music makers are the ones who are hit hardest, whose businesses are threatened, and whose families are put at risk.  So how can I be against the way streaming companies treat musicians but not be against streaming itself?

The same way I’m against the electric chair, but not against electricity.

Spotify, the current Goliath of streaming services, had a rocky year and it’s come at a bad time for them.  The public’s perception of the once can-do-no-wrong streaming giant is evolving, and for the first time it’s not improving.  This was the year people watched as multiple, massive class-action lawsuits were filed against the company for widespread copyright infringement.  This was the year people learned that even while Spotify added millions of new subscribers, their per-stream rate to musicians actually fell.  This was the year people started to understand how it all works: that while it takes a music maker 380,000 streams on Spotify just to make minimum wage, the average Spotify employee earns $14,000 a month.

Then there was the biggest revelation.  This was the year people started to connect the dots about how Spotify’s founder, Daniel Ek, made his initial fortune.  At 23, he was the CEO of uTorrent, a pirate platform that became BitTorrent (arguably the largest rights-infringing platform in the world).  He and their developers then used identical rights-infringing software in order to build his new golden goose: Spotify. His personal worth is now estimated at around $800 million.

If all this wasn’t enough to corrode the company’s shiny image, people also noticed that Spotify doesn’t make anything.  They’ve noticed that the television and film industries aren’t up in arms over Netflix the way music makers are up in arms about Spotify, for good reason.  It’s because Netflix makes stuff.  Great stuff in fact, like Stranger ThingsThe CrownOrange is the New Black –– great shows that employ great artists and craftspeople at every level, not just superstars.  Gaffers, grips, carpenters, writers, make-up artists, and so on. Meanwhile, Spotify pockets 30% of all the revenue they collect––and they don’t make anything.

Instead, they’ve become single-minded in their pursuit of Wall Street, aiming for a public offering that now looks likely in the weeks or months ahead.  Spotify’s ambition to become a stock market titan –– a strategy music insiders continue to scratch their heads at –– will put the company in the untenable position of pleading poverty to Congress and pushing for even lower rates to music makers (“We can’t make any money, you have to save us!”), while simultaneously having to brag about how successful they are to their shareholders and the rest of Wall Street (“We’re making so much money! You have to buy our stock!”).  All you have to do is ask Pandora, internet-radio’s once but now fallen Goliath, how that untenable position worked out for them. (Spoiler alert: it didn’t.)

“Spotify doesn’t know what their product is…”

Spotify has a public relations problem because they have an actual problem, and for all the problems listed above, the greatest one they face is this: Spotify’s in trouble because Spotify doesn’t know what their product is.

It’s astonishing. But it’s absolutely true. I know, because they told me so.

I was invited to a closed-door “artists-only” meeting with executives from Spotify.  I’d been invited because of I Respect Music, a campaign I started and launched from my laptop which, improbably and surprisingly, has since become the largest grassroots campaign in American music history.  The meeting was a loud and pointed one –– something Spotify executives hadn’t anticipated –– and the 40 or so of us music makers present were openly incensed.

I was a vocal participant in the meeting, and when it was over I found myself surrounded by several Spotify executives.  One said, “Blake, I just don’t think you understand, our users love our product because it’s such an amazing one.”  Another added, “You have to look past just numbers, our product is so great it’s actually turning the industry around.”  This went on for a while, until I finally said to one of the executives, “You keep using that word, ‘product.’  I’m not trying to be difficult, I’m really asking you: what do you think your product is?”

The executive was surprised.  He stared at me blankly and said, “What do you mean? Our product is Spotify.”

There it was.  It was a shocking admission to me, in earshot of everyone, and one he obviously didn’t think was an admission at all.

“No no… sorry,” I said, shaking my head in disbelief.  “Your product isn’t ‘Spotify.’”  He continued to stare at me.  I said, “Sir, your product is music.”  The emboldened musicians standing around us started laughing.  The exec smiled and backed away, “Well okay, if you’re going to be like that.”

“Wait,” I said, “Listen, it’s music. Your product is music.  The reason I know that is because if we went out into the street right now and asked a thousand people what Starbucks’ ‘product’ is, they’d all say coffee.  Not a single person would say ‘Starbucks’ product is Starbucks.’ Right?”

His smile faded.

“And by the way,” I added,  “Stop calling your subscribers ‘users.’ They’re not ‘users,’ they’re listeners––our listeners in fact.  You’re the ‘user.’  You’re using our music to monetize our listeners for your profit.”

He looked at me as if I’d just shot Santa Claus in the face.

“No, man!  You’re wrong!”  He was sweating now, and the dozen or so musicians who’d gathered around us began heckling him. He shouted, “Spotify is our product! You don’t get it at all!”  He stormed off.

I called after him, “You shouldn’t be fighting the people who make your only product.  That’s an expensive and stupid fight you’re gonna lose.” I left the meeting. I was still in disbelief.

I feel like this is a good time to remind you that I actually love streaming.

Webster’s English Dictionary defines the term “golden goose” as a continuing source of wealth or profit that may be exhausted if it’s misused. Sadly, Spotify’s ongoing crisis of misuse begins and ends with the fact that they don’t know their only product is music. They think it’s themselves, which explains each and all of their stunning mistakes and missteps. They’d be well-served to ask any first-semester business student what the difference is between a “brand” and a “product.” But I don’t think they will, and I don’t think it’d help them at this point. I think their goose is cooked.

Mark Twain wrote, “It’s not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you think you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Spotify’s in serious trouble because they’re powerfully sure of something that just ain’t so. They think this is all about them. It’s not.

It’s about music. It’s about the people who love to listen to it, and the people who love to make it. That connection between music lover and music maker is primal and unbreakable. Take all the music off Spotify and no one will show brand-loyalty by sitting and staring at their silent logo.

There’s a bleak future waiting for Spotify if they continue to behave their way into situations like the one they’re in now. Wall Street won’t be able to save them. And music makers won’t be interested in even trying. Ask MySpace.

I really do love streaming. It’s not the future as many say, it’s the present. It’s here now, and it’s here to stay. It can provide enormous energy to our musical landscape –– lighting the way for music lovers and music makers alike––and it can and should drive great, productive, and healthy growth for all. I hope it does.

Remember… musicians love electricity.  It’s the electric chair we hate.”

 


43 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    So… Is selling a service that provides access to music the same thing as selling music? Discuss.

    • DavidB

      “Is selling a service that provides access to music the same thing as selling music?”

      If there is no additional charge for listening to the music, then the price of the music is part of the price of the service. For comparison, it is possible to buy a travel ticket to some popular attraction (e.g. Disneyland). The ticket may or may not include the price for entrance to the attraction. If it does, the price of the ticket will naturally be higher then if it does not. In the case of music streaming services, they provide certain services, such as search facilities and playlists, which would have some value even if the user had to pay extra to listen to the music itself, but it is self-evident that the ability to listen to the music is the main attraction, and that is what is mainly being ‘sold’. Spotify’s continual whingeing that they have to pay 60 or 70 percent of their revenue in royalties is akin to a butcher complaining that he has to pay for meat.

    • James Preston

      Windows media player was co-opted by Spotify.(wonder what that cost) Now all the hundreds of CD’s I bought decades ago I have to listen to with commercials unless I pay premium prices. That in itself alerted me to what Spotify thought was their product. Elon Musk said ITunes seems to care about privacy. My guess is it’s relative.
      I have my music on its own hard drive (cds in attic). ITunes has through the years become more selective in finding that music. Greyed out songs that I know are there. But I’d rather deal with that than a company whose greed outweighs it’s benefit. Justice, Benefit, Propriety Anne Leckie

      • Reality

        Dude, Windows Media Player!? 1997 was 20 years ago. This is like complaining that new cars don’t come with 8 track decks anymore.

        If you insist on retaining antiquated music playback practices, have you considered using a different player? Try VLC for example.

        • musicPhilsgood

          Windows Media Player ROCKS, couldn’t figure out how to organize in VLC or rip music CDs of myself to .wav files

        • AssistingSoCalledReality

          – James Preston
          January 11, 2018
          Windows media player was co-opted by Spotify

          – Reality
          January 12, 2018
          Dude, Windows Media Player!? 1997 was 20 years ago

          “Reality”
          Spotify saw the value in WMP

          A significant point that invalidates your premise

          Glad to see you at least learned to count
          Though of course someone else may have assisted in that aspect

    • Lou Cabaza

      It’s all disgusting and sad for artist who spend their lives and money into trying to just make music for the world. Screw them all

    • Think

      Product = something you produce. Spotify’s product is a streaming platform; musicians product is music. Beyond self-righteous indignation about that incorrect point, this article consists of nothing other than mud slinging at Spotify execs/employees for making money. K.

      • Michael

        Our argument is flawed because you misidentified what Spotify produces. It should be that Spotify is a music/audio streaming service, because that is all it streams.
        This factual correction alters the logical formulation of the rest of your premise and results in your conclusion being unsupported or false.

      • Faza (TCM)

        Thought experiment: if tomorrow every single artist ups sticks and there’s no music for Spotify to stream, what is their product and how much is it worth?

        Hint: Nobody wants a streaming platform that doesn’t actually allow you to stream anything, any more than somebody wants a store that has nothing to sell. Spotify doesn’t have a product. It is a distributor (in the broad sense of charging for access to someone else’s product), nothing more.

  2. Nick

    Sure, if I ask people what Starbucks’ product is, they’ll say coffee

    However, if I ask someone what Walmart’s product is, they’ll probably be confused, because Walmart offers a service, not a product.

    Spotify is more like a Walmart than a Starbucks. It’s a service, not a product.

    • Anonymous

      Walmart sells products. Cable TV might be a better analogy.

        • Michael

          It’s a better analogy but changes your conclusion.
          Comcast service is television shows and movies and other audio/video based entertainment.
          Spotify product is a music/audio streaming platform.

          Both devices require a product produced by others, yet only one pays what’s considered to be fair in the eyes of the content producers.

          • Reality

            What’s fair is the amount of compensation that the content producers are able to negotiate. This is how free market capitalism works.

            Is Apple compensating the content producers at a higher rate?

            If these artist advocates had half a brain they would have been lobbying they record labels to create streaming platforms in the early 2000’s instead of trying to sue file sharers and putting DRM on CDs. If this happened, there would be 100s of millions of streaming subscribers around the world instead of 10s of millions and content producers would be receiving much higher compensation thanks to much higher volumes of consumption.

  3. Covfefe

    Blake Morgan, nobody gives a shit about your opinion except a bunch of loser bands nobody cares about and that fucking liar David Lowery.

    Why don’t you tell us how much Spotify and other streaming services should be paying artists and how much they should be charging listeners? I can’t wait to read that article and laugh at it. I’m sure Daniel Ek, Eddy Cue, the heads of the major labels, and most successful artists today will be laughing twice as hard at your retarded commie economic bullshit theory.

    Why don’t you go ask some successful artists what they earn from Spotify or streaming in general? They won’t tell you because they’re doing just fine, even after the record company rapes them with that contract they signed years ago.

    • invisible999

      “The streaming services have a bad situation, there’s no margins, they’re not making any money,” he said. “Amazon sells Prime; Apple sells telephones and iPads; Spotify, they’re going to have to figure out a way to get that audience to buy something else. If tomorrow morning [Amazon CEO] Jeff Bezos wakes up and says, ‘You know what? I heard the word “$7.99″ I don’t know what it means, and someone says, ‘Why don’t we try $7.99 for music?’ Woah, guess what happens?”

      “The streaming business is not a great business,” he continued. “It’s fine with the big companies: Amazon, Apple, Google… Of course it’s a small piece of their business, very cool, but Spotify is the only standalone, right? So they have to figure out a way to show the road to making this a real business.”

      Jimmy Iovine
      Apple Music

    • Daniel

      Reality – yes Apple pays twice as much for Apple Music than Spotify does.. it is a BIG difference..

  4. Anonymouse

    Or said more nicely, Blake, a billion users on the planet aren’t going to regress to an 8-track version of your lovely tunes. What the streaming services sell is an experience that includes discovery and access. You can’t do that alone or with David Lowry and his trusty band of tort lawyers.

    • Michael

      You can’t discover new music alone or without Spotify? That’s not only incorrect but shamefully sad. Don’t forget it’s possible to find new music from literally thousands of sources that aren’t Spotify, the best source being friends. I’d suggest joining a music club.

  5. anonymous

    this absolutely never happened. this article is hilarious.

  6. Sub

    Amazing how the ire is never directed where it should be. At record labels that own the content. They were party to these onerous deals, and spotify wouldn’t exist without their license. Record labels have always been shady, just more of the same. But why do they escape criticism here?

    • Michael

      The fault is technically with the Federal Government, since they set the rates for broadcast license payment, and have refused to update it for 80 years. There have been several hearings about this over the past few years and current bill in Congress now to hopefully update this error.

      • Michael ??

        That’s nonsense. Streaming rates on Spotify aren’t set by the Federal government.

  7. Benny

    Astounding. Spotify tells Huffington Post it will pull advertising or sue them?

    • Sam Fez

      People use Spotify out of choice. If you don’t like the service, you don’t have to use it.
      People tend to ‘succumb’ to using it because it pays out FAR MORE than all the other streamers.
      When you realise how much the other companies that are owned by Apple, Google, major labels do absolutely everything they can to monopolise and crush it’s rivals, articles like this appear even more dystopian in nature.

  8. Dov

    Lol at how this news article got removed from google’s immediate search results

    I found this article earlier searching just the word Spotify
    Now it’s gone, and you have to click the News tab itself otherwise you can’t find this anywhere else on the search results page

    Something is definitely up

  9. Tony

    Either I’m missing something, or this article completely misses the point about the business model of streaming:

    “This was the year people learned that even while Spotify added millions of new subscribers, their per-stream rate to musicians actually fell”

    Of course the per stream rate fell while they acquired more subscribers : that’s economies of scale. It doesn’t mean rights owners are getting less: it just means more streams at a lower the unit cost – i.e. like most sales. Rightly, or wrongly: Spotify’s whole potential must be based on scale that allows them to make a profit on unit costs. But this might just mean that the income will increase, just not at the exponential rate of new subscribers.

  10. Meh

    If Spotify = bad, isn’t it the people voluntarily putting music on Spotify to blame?

    • Daniel the parasite

      i think in part , whats happening is artists know if they dont they basically turn their back on the fans on there , its a little like the artists cannot win , they refuse to upload to Spotify and that loses them fans , its what happens when a Monopoly and business essentially take over an entire industry offering cheap product but at the Producers Expense….musicians should on mass remove their work really , thats the only answer for a mass removal of work but its very hard to remove work , from personal experience they have 1000’s of music releases on their Unlicensed and getting stufff off is really difficult if your a small act once its on.

  11. Remi Swierczek

    THERE IS NO OTHER CHOICE!
    Musicians are stack with Ek’s dope on Apple, Amazon, Google, TIDAL, DEEEEEEZZEr or YouTube/VEVO music incinerator!
    UMG boys ander supervision of RIAA and ASCAP created exciting music business suicide which is composting $300B of OBVIOUS music goodwill to $30B subs and ads (we hope by 2030)

    For a moment all the rulers of music nuthouse are holding breath to catch some cash from VERRRRRY “BLUFFFY” (do not want to use proper term or Paul might be forced to remove my comment or his article) IPO!

  12. Daniel the parasite

    its a scam , simple………i am on there with 55000 listeners last month , my stats go up each month for last 3 years but my income goes down , i was making a living sell cd and download at the Peak of torrents , really , when streaming and spotify kicked in my download income died and my cd sales but my listeners went way way up but i cannot cash in on them ? its a Monopolised music system and bankrupt me and now i cannot make sustainable income from music .I believe its a modern form of Robbery and i believe it has destroyed some of the Inherant value of music as an artform , its turned people into Obedient slaves to Convenience and the main man behind it is a Parasite , just a Parasitic human making vast wealth from Other Humans and Their Families ? thats my feeling but all my fans are now slaves to him or many so what can i do ?

  13. Scott

    Why would a person be “against” electric cars? I can see a specific electric car not meeting your needs, but I can’t imagine what someone would be “against electric cars”.

  14. Anonymous

    what a load of bollocks. this is so cringe. if this meeting full of execs happened, why aren’t they named?

    “the average Spotify employee earns $14,000 a month” – name any other business where an exec doesn’t make a ridiculous amount of money? i can guarantee the majority of staff at Spotify are closer to making that in a year, than a month.

    spotify’s product is spotify.

    upload your music to distrokid with a one-off payment, keep all the royalties, and promote the content. you can make a good living from spotify if you’re not giving it all back to a label.

  15. PleaseDoBetter

    They probably pulled this article because it’s awful. Don’t ask a question then assume you know better than the person who you’re asking it to. What kind of reporting is that?

    “How was your meal?”
    “Good”
    “No, it’s music.”

    Come on. He was trying to explain what they do. Starbucks isn’t successful because they sell good coffee. It’s because of the business processes they have in place. Let him explain that then pretend you know better.

    So… yeah I would pull this as an editor if someone pointed out to me how bad it is.

  16. Corrazerwas

    Spotify like all other streaming platforms are daylight robbery. Credit for a great platform, but the truth is they are riding on the backs of hard working artist that pour out their hearts, spending thousands to record amd equip themselves. Not even mentioning the physical and emotional effort they put in. Just to get a fraction of a cent for thw listening pleasure of others and the evil capitalist spirit of the fat cats in suits. Fuck all of them. Art makes the world go around, without it we’re fucked. But who cares. They never have and never will. To hell with all of them. The wheel will turn believe me. And when it does thieves like Spotify will end up lonely, empty and poor. Both in spirit and in worldly “wealth”.

  17. Slaveify

    All is fair in love and war. But musicians are the whores in this unfair love. Platforms like Spotify are nothing more than glorified pimps. Letting honest hardworking artist being fucked over and over in the name of exposure.